Interactive Fiction by Phone

Ifbyphone banner: Pandorabot chat face and five photos of customers, smiling and talking

Ifbyphone, LLC, as their name implies, allows you to play interactive fiction by phone.

However this is not through enabling your cellphone as a device that runs an IF interpreter, but rather through an interactive voice service. The parser text is read out-loud to you via text-to-speech, and your voice commands are sent back to the parser via speech-to-text.

The ifbyphone homepage also uses a SitePal Flash-based speaking character to promote this experience (which is interestingly the same Oddcast technology that drives the Flash visualization for Pandorabots chatbot hosting).

I first heard about the company via an ifbyphone press release I picked up on Google News - and between that and their website, it looks like their business model has shifted a bit since the company was named:
Tags: , ,

Speech IVR Hosting Provider, MTI, Announces Strategic Partnership - August 10, 2005

…ifbyphone allows voice-enabled interaction with a number of applications to access the latest news, listen to email, search thousands of RSS feeds, access hundreds of blogs, play fun games such as blackjack, Texas Hold ‘em Poker and multiple player trivia, and enjoy Interactive Fiction for the first time by voice….

However, even if their IF services no longer have pride of place, there is still an IFiction section on their website, which includes a demo with a full selection of their IF available via voice:

  • Adventure
  • All Roads
  • Dreamhold
  • Ediface
  • Fail-Safe
  • Photopia (black and white edition)
  • Theatre
  • Zork I

These are excellent choices… and some raise interesting issues for audio adaptations.

5 Responses to “Interactive Fiction by Phone”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

    This is amazing! I was just talking to a friend about how bots needs to be used with voice-recognition more. Well, I made the call (not free outside of the US) and tried Adventure. I find it really exciting to be able to request IF on a phone. Actually playing is another thing. The differences between the experience of IF in text and the experience of IF via phone are many. Here are my observations of the aesthetics of IF by phone:

    1) I speak my commands rather than writing them, which brings my private entertainment experience into a more public realm;
    2) I get feedback from the system, confirming what I said (via voice rather than me seeing it on the screen). This made me feel I could trust the voice system more (at the beginning) for some reason;
    3) Being on the phone put a downward pressure on my play experience. I had the learnt impulse to reply to someone on the phone. I think there were 2 drives operating here: there wasn’t an actual person on the other end, yet I felt compelled answer because phones are usually experienced with real people (and we’ve learnt to not leave gaps in the conversation) and I’ve experienced automated systems on the phone and know that if I don’t respond the system will disconnect the call. Because of these 2 drives, I felt compelled to reduce my thinking time and for some reason, didn’t explore as many possibilities as I would with text. Is text time considered cheaper than talk time, even if you’re not paying?
    4) The system gives you more feedback as to what you have to say (is this correct?);
    5) I tried an IF I had played before with text but I couldn’t remember the right words (of course), but for some reason I didn’t look online for the walkthrough. I didn’t want to see the details and the text on screen whilst I was in a ‘aural’ mode. I felt that it would lesson the experience.
    6) In the end I hung up because I didn’t want to pay big $$ for experimentations.

    Is it possible to PLAY with the meter ticking? Can games be played on a per second or per minute payment model? They do offer subscriptions (starting at a 30 minute plan - $9.95/month). Is 30 mins enough? Would I want to pay that for something I could get for free elsewhere? So, when would I preference the voice version? This would be great for accessibility and for those on the move (and addicted to IF?!). Indeed, the site offers a reading of stock prices and other information services. So, in that sense I think having the service for those who cannot experience IF in other ways is good. I also love the blog service. They will read out your blog for users!

    Interesting. Thanks Jeremy.

  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass

    Great report on the actual experience Christy - I’ve used ifbyphone for free three times now on three different IF, but I didn’t write up my notes like I should have. (see the followup draft queued for Wednesday for what I did do).

    As soon as the average cell phone can run a TTS program, paying for airtime and transmitting IF as voice data stops making sense because IF are finite - although their method of saving your position where you last left off is excellent, and might make sense for someone who switches between several phone locations. I wonder whether this technology makes more sense for enabling MUD / MOO participation or as an interface to text chat - you could call in to the layer and participate in Kingdom of Loathing or a GAIM conference even if you are away from your computer. Hmm….

  3. 3 Christy Dena

    That is a great idea — KoL conference call. Cool.

  4. 4 Christy Dena
  5. 5 Private Krankenversicherung

    I have added it to my favourites, greetings. Many thanks Private Krankenversicherung

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